Posts tagged with "scientific evidence"

Porter Hearing Not Required Where Accident Reconstructionists’ Testimonies Were Based on Principles of Dynamics and the Law of Motion

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut found that a trial court did not err in denying a defendant’s motion to strike the expert testimony of two State witnesses.

This case arose from an incident that occurred at 10:00pm on September 2, 2003. The defendant became intoxicated at a bar and was asked by the bartender to leave. Two patrons attempted to persuade the defendant to allow them to drive him home, but abandoned their efforts once the defendant started to become violent. The defendant got into his truck and drove southbound on Route 85 in Hebron when he struck a car in the northbound lane. The other driver was pronounced dead at the scene and the defendant was transported to the hospital, where he registered a blood alcohol content of 0.248.

The defendant was charged with first-degree manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, and two counts of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol. He filed a motion in limine, requesting that any and all evidence related to accident reconstruction be excluded because “the state would be unable to establish the scientific validity of the methodologies utilized by the state’s reconstructionists [State experts] under State v. Porter.” This motion was denied, though the defendant would have the option of filing a motion to strike after the State experts testified.

At trial, the State experts rendered their opinions as to how the accident collision occurred. They stated that their methods of reconstruction are “generally accepted and used throughout the nation” and did not involve “new material.” Each reached conclusions that the accident could not have occurred in the lane in which the defendant was traveling due to the “[p]rincipal direction of force and momentum” and because “[t]he vehicle dynamics don’t allow that.” As such, they opined that the defendant’s truck crossed the center yellow line and struck the other driver’s car.

Defense counsel moved to strike the State experts’ testimonies, arguing that the methods used were scientifically unreliable. The State countered that “[t]he subject of the testimony… is no[t] new, novel science” but were based on principles of physics “that had been put forth centuries ago.” The court denied the defendant’s motion to strike testimony because the testimony was sufficiently reliable and did not require a Porter hearing. The defendant was subsequently convicted on three counts and appealed, arguing, in part, that the trial court erred in denying his motion to strike.

In the landmark case Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharmaceuticals, the U.S. Supreme Court described the manner in which scientific evidence will be admissible in a trial. Connecticut adopted this analysis in State v. Porter, where a court will hold a so-called Porter hearing to determine whether the proffered evidence is reliable and relevant. However, some scientific principles are so well established that it is unnecessary to review evidence under an explicit Daubert analysis. Therefore, scientific evidence derived under these principles that would “clearly withstand a Daubert analysis” will be admissible at trial upon a showing a relevance.

In this case, the Appellate Court concluded that the methods used by the State experts in reconstructing the accident and reaching their conclusions were not new and original. Rather, when the State experts determined where the accident occurred, they applied “principles and theories that have been in the recognized literature and have been taught at training academies for decades.” Therefore, a Porter hearing was not required prior to their testimony and the court’s subsequent refusal to grant the defendant’s motion to strike was proper.

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence), an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Defendant’s Motions to Suppress Evidence from Urinalysis and Field Sobriety Tests After Boating Incident

This case arose from an incident that occurred on July 8, 2007. The defendant consumed six ounces of bourbon whiskey over the course of approximately an hour and a half, and then traveled down the Connecticut River on his motorboat. The river was extremely crowded with other vessels due to the holiday. At 3:46pm, the defendant was traveling at 30 knots (or 34.5mph) when he fell out of the boat, which then struck a nearby sailboat and killed one of the passengers.

The defendant was quickly rescued, and brought to the dock an hour after the accident. Police officers on the scene observed the defendant as unsteady, disoriented, and confused, and had slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, and an odor of alcohol. While the officers conducted a series of field sobriety tests, for which they received extensive training, the defendant became belligerent and argumentative. After the tests were complete, the defendant was brought to the police station, where officers conducted two urinalysis tests at 5:56pm and then 6:30pm.

The defendant was charged with reckless operation of a vessel while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs, second-degree manslaughter, and seven other counts in violation of various General Statutes. The defendant filed three motions to suppress the urinalysis tests, to suppress evidence of the field sobriety tests, and to request a Porter hearing to determine whether the urinalysis procedure used by Connecticut agencies was proper.

General Statutes § 15-140l makes it a crime to recklessly operate a vessel while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs. A person may be charged in the first degree if, while under the influence, they operate a vessel in such a way that it results in serious physical injury to others or damages property in excess of $2,000. “Operate” in this context means that “the vessel is underway or aground and not moored, anchored or docked.” Evidence that is used to establish the amount of alcohol or drug in the defendant’s blood or urine is admissible under General Statutes § 15-140r(a), as long as the test occurred within two hours from the operation of a vessel. In this case, the urinalysis tests were taken more than two hours after the accident. Therefore, the Superior Court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress this evidence.

Evidence derived from field sobriety tests is admissible so long as the State lays the foundation that the testing officer “is qualified to perform the tests, and that the tests were conducted in substantial accord with relevant procedures and standards.” That is to say, officers do not need to perform the tests perfectly, because ideal conditions are not always present. In this case, the officers testified as to the extent of their training, and the defendant had ample opportunity to cross-examine them. Because this was a matter of the weight of the evidence and not its admissibility, the Court denied the defendant’s motion in limine to suppress this evidence.

In State v. Porter, the State Supreme Court ruled that where a party objects to scientific evidence offered by the other party, the burden rests with the proponent to establish that the evidence is admissible. Generally, evidence will be admissible so long as it tends to support a relevant fact and is neither prejudicial nor cumulative. The Porter court held that scientific evidence should only be inadmissible if “the methodology underlying such evidence is sufficiently invalid to render the evidence incapable of helping the fact finder determine a fact in dispute.”

Connecticut recognizes three methods of testing for the presence of alcohol – blood, breath, and urine – and each of these methods is statutorily recognized as reliable for legal purposes. Thus, “[o]nce a scientific process or methodology has been approved after a Porter analysis, it can be admitted in subsequent cases without a second Porter-type analysis.” In this case, because urinalysis is statutorily approved, the defendant did not have a right to a Porter hearing. Therefore, his motion for this hearing to determine the admissibility of the chemical urinalysis was denied.

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle or vessel while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence), an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Left-Handed Defendant Presented No Scientific Evidence of Inability to Use Right Hand to Stab a Victim

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut declined to overturn a defendant’s convictions for assault and carrying a dangerous weapon, rejecting his appellate claim of physically impossible conclusions.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on July 9, 2006. An ongoing feud existed between the defendant and the victim, which came to a head at the Puerto Rican Day Parade in Bridgeport. The two first engaged in a verbal argument, then physical blows. When the defendant was on his knees, he reached for his back right pocket and stabbed the victim in the stomach before running off. At the hospital, the victim recovered and told police that the defendant was his attacker.

The defendant was charged with assault in the first degree and carrying a dangerous weapon, among other counts. At trial, a witness verified that they saw the defendant pull a butterfly knife from his right rear pocket, and a medical expert testified that the injuries sustained were consistent with those made by someone holding a knife with his right hand. However, the defendant testified that he was left-handed and thus could not have inflicted the injuries. He contended that one of the State witnesses, who received a plea bargain for his testimony, had a knife as well and could have caused the injury. This individual conceded that he had an eight-inch hunting knife that he unsheathed and waved around in an attempt to break up the fight. However, the blade was at the minimum 2.25 inches wide, while the victim’s injuries were only 1.75 inches in width.

At the close of evidence, the defendant moved for a new trial, which was denied. He was then convicted by a jury and appealed, arguing once again that the conviction was improper “because it was based on physically impossible conclusions.” The defendant claimed that as a left-handed person he could not have inflicted injuries on the victim’s right side, and it was impossible for him to reach a knife from his right-rear pocket using his left hand. In addition, he stated that a butterfly knife could not have caused the injuries.

A verdict rendered by a jury is typically given great deference, for it is their province to serve as the ultimate arbiter of credibility in a criminal case. However, there are a few situations where overturning the verdict is proper because it is based on conclusions that simply are not possible:

[A] verdict should be set aside [w]here testimony is thus in conflict with indisputable physical facts, the facts demonstrate that the testimony is either intentionally or unintentionally untrue, and leave no real question of conflict of evidence for the jury concerning which reasonable minds could reasonably differ.

In this case, the Appellate Court found that, even assuming the jury took the defendant at his word that he was left-handed, “this does not lead to the logical conclusion that he could not have used his right hand to stab the victim.” Having predominant use of one hand does not instantly render the other one unusable, and the Court pointed out that the defendant presented no scientific evidence that he was unable to use his right hand.

In addition, the Court rejected the defendant’s argument regarding the possibility that the State witness inflicted the injury. It noted that the blade was too wide, whereas the defendant’s knife was “long enough” to cause the victim’s injuries. Because the defendant failed to provide any evidence that the jury made unreasonable findings and conclusions, this aspect of his appeal was unsuccessful. After dispensing with other matters brought forth on appeal, the defendant’s conviction was sustained.

When faced with a charge of assault or carrying a deadly weapon, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

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